Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Suffering (page 1 of 4)

Christmas loneliness

Christmas.

For some of us it conjures up images of family, laughter, connection and fun. For others, just the very word triggers stress, busyness and just wanting it to be over with. And for others it only triggers pain, loneliness and dread.

A former pastor of mine used to remind us every year that Christmas is a time when the lonely are lonelier and the poor are poorer.

As I sit alone in my apartment, I know what it is to be alone, and sometimes I feel lonely. But then I sit still and remind myself that I am actually not alone, not in the sense of ultimate aloneness. I am loved, I am ok, I am good.

It can be hard though if you don’t have family around, if you’re old and no one ever visits, if you feel forgotten. Loneliness is an epidemic in our busy culture, and Christmas is the loneliest time of all for thousands of people.

As one of my new favourite songs says,

“Sometimes
The air is so anxious
All my thoughts are so reckless
And all of my innocence has died
Sometimes
I wake at four in the morning
When all the darkness is swarming
And it covers me in fear
Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes
Full of anger and grieving
So far away from believing
That any sun will reappear”

When you wake in the middle of the night and there is no one next to you; that’s when you feel it. And all you can do is lie there with the aloneness. You can pray and sometimes you might have a sense of God being close and sometimes you might just feel like your prayer stops at the ceiling. It can be hard when you’re alone, especially at Christmas.

If you are lonely this Christmas, you are in good company. The baby whose birth we remember also found himself alone a lot in his life. From the very time of his birth, he was hunted. The Christmas story is good news, wonderful news, news of hope, but the occasion of Jesus’ entry into the world was nothing like what we see in the nice, saccharine, sickly Christmas cards in our shops.

Jesus was forgotten, denied, betrayed, and still he went forward in love. He personified what love is, because love gets rejected; love is often lonely because it is not returned. Jesus opened himself to rejection because he loved. And that rejection came, and he was lonely. He reminded his best friends of that when he said that “when you are hated by the world, remember that it hated me first.” He knows what it is to be lonely.

If you are alone you are never ultimately alone. And it’s because of Christmas. You are remembered, you are loved; in fact you are cherished.

It’s in the difficult times that I remember I need God, that I surrender and find the home my heart craves. Christmas is the greatest news in the world. If you don’t feel loved this Christmas, this is a love like no other. You are understood, you are heard, you are seen. And you are never alone.

Finally, read Romans 8:38-39.

What the Manus Island refugees have taught me about following Jesus

The human tragedy that is the situation on Manus Island has horrified thousands of Australians. Personally, I have never felt so angry and disbelieving that our Government could be so cruel and unjust. What the ongoing tragedy has also confirmed to me though is that the life of following Jesus, the life we experience in following Jesus, is gained by going out of our comfort zones. Let me explain.

Last week I called the offices of some MPs about the abandoned men on Manus. I don’t like making phone calls like that. I get nervous about how I’m going to come across, and I procrastinate. After the first call, I was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt doing this. I feel much more comfortable behind my keyboard on my laptop writing to an MP rather than calling their office to express my disgust. It’s part of my dislike of conflict. So, when I decided to call, I just wanted to get it over with.

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When the only words are tears

This is probably the most important article I have ever written. Rowland Croucher gave me the huge honour of writing it in the wake of the passing of his dear wife, Jan. This is more his article than mine.

Many readers will be aware that Jan Croucher, wife of counsellor and pastor to many, Rowland, passed away recently after a four-year battle with cancer.

A few months before Jan’s passing, Rowland shared on Facebook the depth of grief he was experiencing as he watched his life partner of 57 and a half years become weaker and sleep for most of the day. His own summary expressed it best:

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The forgotten Christians

Since the time of Jesus, millions of Christians have had a fascination with visiting the Holy Land. It is a pilgrimage for many of us, almost in the same way as visiting Mecca is for Muslims.

For much of my adult life I have wanted to visit the biblical sights in Israel, and last year I finally had the opportunity.

My work in the area of aid and development, as well as my passion for justice to be done for people living on the margins of society, had alerted me to the plight of Palestinians in the Holy Land. I didn’t know a whole lot about the conflict and its history, but I did know that Palestinians were the ones being oppressed and that therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I wanted to know more about the conflict from their point of view.

Our view of the world is determined by where we stand. Too often in Christian circles, we stand with those in power. If we stand with power, we will see the world from that point of view. This has been the case with Christendom ever since the time of Constantine. But if, like Jesus, we stand with the oppressed, we will see the world from their perspective.

This is where we need to understand something that is terribly misunderstood in the church: God plays favourites.

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Seeing Jesus through Palestinian eyes

The thing that has always touched me the most when I have visited non-Western cultures is the personal stories of people’s lives.

Going into Gaza and and East Jerusalem last year gave me the opportunity to hear some more.

Here are some of them…

Blessing theology

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at church on the idea of blessing, what it is and what it isn’t. We have a major problem in the church with blessing theology, the idea that if you do something, God will bless you or even curse you.

You can read the notes from my talk here and see the PowerPoint presentation here.

The problem with positive thinking

An Easter reflection

I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross. Every eye looking every other way, counting down ’til the pain would stop. – U2, Moment of Surrender

On this day we remember Jesus walking the Stations of the Cross, from the place of his trial to the Place of the Skull – his crucifixion. It is a solemn route, a route of salvation through the most intense suffering.

Over the last couple of years I have become more aware of what my heart really desires. In a sense I’ve always been aware of it but growth is a gradual process. It’s a very rare person who has a lightning bolt experience of revelation.

The deepest desire of my heart, and I suspect of all of our hearts, is for intimacy. We long for connection to other human beings. It is the essence of who we are. We are hard wired for relationship.

The image in the above song line is of the way we rush through life on the subway, speeding to make a living but not stopping to make a life. The Stations of the Cross are a wonderful reflection timeline, scattered along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. This Easter is the perfect time to stop and reflect as we stop for a few days from the rush of life.

In our culture we find it difficult to stop though. It’s like we are doing all we can to cover up some pain in our lives, something that is missing. As we speed through the subway, rushing through but not stopping at the stations to reflect, our eyes look the other way, not wanting to make contact with each other. We think the fact that everyone being on their devices and not connecting with each other is a new phenomenon, something that has arisen with the advent of our devices. But if you look at photos from a hundred years ago, you will see people lined up in the street reading their newspapers. Nothing has changed, just the way we don’t connect with each other.

Why are we fearful of connecting with each other while at the same time we yearn for it? Is it because we fear what we cannot control, because we have been hurt to the point that we cannot trust anymore? Why is it that every eye looks every other way, seemingly counting down until we can finally get off that train and not feel the awkwardness of being too close to others? It’s why no one looks at each other in lifts. We don’t want to be in each other’s personal zones.

Connection to each other is what we are made for. Jesus’ suffering and brutal death is a reminder of what love will do to be close to us. It is while we were still bitter enemies of him that Jesus died for humanity, to be close, to connect and to be intimate. That is what love is, and it changes the world. 

How we grow

The things that really matter

Humanity can live without success but we cannot live without meaning – Richard Rohr

When life hits you where it hurts, when something knocks you off your feet, pulls the rug out from under you and turns your life upside down, it is then that the things that really matter become crystal clear to you again.

It is said by wise people that love brings clarity. I have found that to be true. And something else that brings clarity is suffering. It is only through suffering that we grow, that we come to a knowing in our heart and not just intellectually that things like relationship and meaning are what really matter and that everything else is just superficial.

This is a major reason why I remain a person of Christian faith. The Christian movement was birthed in suffering; Jesus was known as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Being Christian and seeking to grow in my faith makes sense to me when nothing else does. It allows me to have joy (not happiness) within suffering.

Our greatest lessons in life are learned in suffering. We don’t learn that in our daily interactions with our culture. Our leaders talk about being successful and winning, and our advertising is deliberately targeted to make us perpetually dissatisfied with what we have in life. But it was the Apostle Paul, writing from prison, who said that he had learned what it is to be content whatever the circumstances.

Why was it that those first followers of the man of sorrows, people like Paul, Peter and James, repeatedly talked about joy when they were beaten, lashed, imprisoned and tortured for refusing to budge from their way of life? They were people who were living in what Richard Rohr calls the second half of life. They knew through their suffering what really mattered. They were able to count it a privilege to suffer for what was called ‘The Way’. They were able to count it all joy when they faced trials of all kinds. That idea is lost on us in a society that values comfort and ease and feeling good above most everything else. But that brings its own suffering as addiction runs rampant as we want to feel all we can and are made to believe that more and better will give us what we want.

A few months ago I walked down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The Way of the Cross as it is called is the path that Jesus carried his cross to his crucifixion. John’s gospel says that Jesus’ crucifixion was when he was glorified. This is another idea that is lost on an affluent society. But it is the only way to life. That is why Jesus, surely knowing what lay ahead of him, said earlier in his ministry that anyone who would come after him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. It is why Paul later said that anyone who follows Jesus will be persecuted.

Relationship and meaning in life are what ultimately matter. Suffering is the key that unlocks these truths.

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